Joe DeLamielleure didn't need his former NFL team to draft Joe Thomas to become a fan of his game.
As a Browns Hall of Famer and former guard who spent over a decade in the NFL from 1973-1985, DeLamielleure always had his eyes on the top offensive line talent in the league. When he watched games on TV, his focus would be trained on the trenches instead of whoever had the ball.
DeLamielleure naturally kept close tabs on the top college prospects, too, so he knew plenty about Thomas, the highly-touted offensive tackle from Wisconsin, before the start of the 2007 draft.
"He was so good because his feet were so quick," DeLamielleure said. "He was so fast and he could always keep blockers in front of him. And he was so, so consistent about it, so I knew he was going to be a very good player once he got to the NFL."
DeLamielleure had already wanted Thomas to be drafted by the Browns, who owned the third overall pick in the draft, after watching him manhandle edge rushers at the college level. That desire became even stronger when he learned what Thomas' plans were for draft day.
"I knew I wanted the Browns to pick him once I found out he was with his dad fishing on draft day," he said. "That told me the type of person he was, but I didn't think he would be available. I thought he would go in the first two picks. He was just that good."
DeLamielleure got his wish. The Browns gave Thomas a call, and the incredible career that followed led him to joining DeLamielleure in Canton as the 18th Browns player to receive a bust.
Nothing about Thomas' career, though, surprised DeLamielleure, and that includes the hallmark stat of Thomas' legacy: 10,363 consecutive snaps.
Most football fans struggle to wrap their head around such a number — Thomas never missed a snap across his 166 career games until a torn triceps injury took him out of his 167th game, the last of his career. His snap steak is believed to be the longest of any player in pro football history and symbolized the strength Thomas brought to the franchise.
But as someone who played 185 consecutive games across his career with the Bills and Browns, DeLamielleure shares a different perspective of Thomas' streak.
"I can wrap my head around it because I never missed a game over my career," he said. "I never missed a practice, either, so I know what it takes to play that long and how tough you need to be to keep going. Joe was so tough and did so much to stay ready every week."
DeLamielleure also shares a different perspective of Thomas' talent growth, which he believes never actually changed as Thomas continued to win Pro Bowls in each of his first 10 seasons in the league — none of the other six first-ballot Hall of Fame offensive tackles earned a Pro Bowl in their first NFL seasons.
To DeLamielleure, Thomas' elite performances in his final years looked the same as those in his first years in the league.
"I don't know if he got any better over the course of his career, and that's because he was already so good," DeLamielleure said. "He couldn't get much better. His technique and skill already looked so perfect when he got to the league.
"It's hard for good offensive lineman to get recognized when they first play in the NFL, but the fact that Joe started getting Pro Bowls right away shows just how much talent he had from Day 1."
It's the type of talent DeLamielleure saw as soon as he began watching Thomas in college.
Now, he can't wait to celebrate with him in Canton and welcome Thomas to the group of Browns Hall of Famers. From the Hall of Fame parade, which DeLamielleure has participated in every year since he was inducted in 2003, to the ceremony and all the other fun moments of Hall of Fame weekend, DeLamielleure knows just how special the celebrations will be for Thomas.
"I'm just so happy for Joe," he said. "It's so well-deserved because he was that consistent and so good and meant so much to the franchise. I'm excited for him and his family, and I'm happy for Browns fans to have this chance to celebrate everything he did for them."